10 Steps to Taking Your Poetry Professional


1.   Join a poetry workshop.
I used to think it was impossible to edit a poem.  However, since joining a workshop early this year, my poetry has definitely improved. Yours will too! There is so much more to editing poems than I realized.  It helps to have objective eyes on your words to see if what you intended is coming across the way you intended.

2.   Join your local poetry society.
Many local poetry societies offer meetings, workshops and contests for members.  You will also get to know the serious poets in your community.

3.   Join your state poetry society.
Many state poetry societies also offer good workshops and contests.  Again, this gives you another chance to learn from other poets.

4.   Also, join the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS).
You have to be a member of a local poetry society that is a member of NFSPS to join but they offer a yearly contest that you might enjoy entering.

5.  Consider joining the Academy of American Poets and The Poetry Society of America. 
      At the very least, check their websites for the resources available.

6.  I also recommend The Poetry Society of the UK. 
Europe seems to have better poetry resources and higher contest rewards than the USA.  The Poetry Society also offers a Poetry Prescription where you can have a poet comment on your poem.  They have one of the best journals out there.

7.  Enter contests put on by all of these groups.
After you have workshopped your poems, start entering those poems in contests.
8.  Take classes offered through these groups also.
Many of the groups I have recommended joining also offer workshops, skills class and poetry readings.  Take advantage of whatever is offered and/or host some of these yourself.

9.  Buy poetry journals and determine where your poetry fits.
This should be one of the most enjoyable parts of the process. I found it to be the most annoying.  It is one of the most expensive and miserable parts of becoming a professional poet.  I found many of the journals incestuous, incomprehensible and felt like I was wasting my money.  Go to the library, if you can, and review them there to save your money.  Only buy those you really like.  

10. Begin submitting poems to the journals you like.
Once you find a treasure, hang on to it and read their submission guidelines carefully.  Go to their website and download the latest information, including the editor or poetry editor’s names.  
You will find many of the resources I recommend linked on the left side and at the bottom of this blog.

You can also add your own suggestions in the comments below.


Futile Feuds of Highfalutin Poets

The Hatfield clan in 1897.
(from Wikipedia)

Can’t we all just get along?

To be such a cultured highfalutin thing, poetry sure has more feuds than the Hatfields and the McCoys.  You know, the legendary warring mountain families from rural West Virginia and Kentucky in the 1800’s.

What is “Real Poetry?”

I am reading a book that argues that “real poetry” is rhyming poetry, not free verse which has dominated the poetry world for years in America.  Others argue that “professional poetry,” whatever that is, must hide meaning from the reader and it certainly can’t be about the mundane stuff of life.  Good poetry must provoke, agonize and engineer social change.

Others say just the opposite, that poetry with an agenda is not art and is merely propaganda.  Some think only observational poetry is authentic.  A recent post by a guest blogger at the Poetry Foundation said that poetry about personal, life, love, agony, etc. makes him pull his hair out.  I’ve argued that poetry that hides the ball makes me pull mine out.  Oh, what a feuding, opinioned bunch we are.

Should style matter?

It is tempting to take an absolutist position when the poetry hierarchy highjacks poetry and declares that all good poetry must adhere to any one form or style.  Why is it that one style has to predominate?  Can we not accommodate a multitude of styles and enjoy the unique qualities each brings. Style is after all a temporary thing.  Styles wax and wane and none of the prior poetry forms mentioned ever really go out of style forever.  They all come back around. 

What is poetry?

My college Literature professor said, “All great Literature is about the movement of the human heart.”  That statement has never left me and I think she nailed it.  All readers of literature are humans and all humans have hearts.  If you don’t move their hearts, it won’t stick with them. What is the first poem you remember?  Why did it stick with you?  Did it move you in some way?  Does it move you still?

Rather than focus so much on style and form, it seems like we would serve our readers better if we focused more on substance and beauty.  Yes, often substance and beauty shine more through good use of form, but not always. Sometimes a story, a narrative, a poem is so powerful that the form is irrelevant. 

What is the point of telling a joke nobody gets?

We are desperately in need of more poetry that:

1.      Grabs you by the throat and forces a knot there
2.      Leaves you misty eyed,
3.      Puts a smile on your lips or
4.      Makes you say, “I never thought of that.”

We are unlikely to reach people by mere form alone.  We reach people when we touch them in some way and not when we impress them with our linguistic gymnastics.  If no one gets the joke, what’s the point of telling it?

What we need is more poetry that moves us!

So, Hatfields and McCoys, let’s put away the guns and daggers.  Let’s welcome all styles and forms into literary journals and help poetry move more human hearts.   Does the world really need more clever style, or does it need more beauty, love and honesty even if raw and real?